The Contradiction Of Google And Facebook

For the last three years I've listened to the debate about whether Facebook will be around and still dominant in 10 years. If you'd asked me the question last month, my answer would have been yes.  However, if you asked me that question anytime this past week, my response would have changed -- dramatically.

Facebook is simply making too many mistakes. Its principals seem to have attended the same professional schooling that birthed the CEO of Netflix, or Qwikster, or whatever they call themselves this week.  Facebook changes its privacy policy like I change Pearl Jam T-shirts on a weekend.  Facebook folk futz with the interface of my news feed, adding triangles and squares and call-outs.  They change the parameters of whose posts will show up in my news feed at a whim and without my consent, forcing me to uncover cleverly hidden ways to return the feed to its original appearance.  They cease sending me updates on when people post on my page, making me miss important information. In sum, they attack my habits as well as invade my privacy in a way that doesn't foster much loyalty or allegiance.



Google has been the exact opposite.  Google folk don't change the interface: it's a search box (it took 10 years for me to be able to put a picture on that page).  They add features in beta and test them for years before they roll them out to everyone.  Search results may be updated on a regular basis with slight tweaks to the algorithm, but in such subtle ways to truly offer refined value to the consumer without causing mass hysteria.  When Google does do something big, it tells you about it and offers you the chance to prepare and ease into it.  When Facebook makes a change, it's summarily adopted overnight and that's that.  You have no say in the matter.

What's truly most disturbing, and what cannot be forgiven (most of the issues above are basically changes in design and can be forgiven) is that Facebook messes with privacy and Google rarely does.  Facebook's means of generating revenue is by guessing who I am and what I like based on what I post.  It's implied targeting.  Google's means of generating revenue comes from stated requests for information.  That's search targeting.  Google does have a behavioral, privacy-threatening component in some of its mail ads, but for the most part they're still based on keywords and not by scraping personal data.  It's still fundamentally targeting by content rather than audience.  Google's hat is hung squarely on the hook of search, whereas Facebook's hat is hanging by a thread to the hook of privacy and inter-personal communications.

Another contradiction between Google and Facebook is that Google came out almost as an altruistic effort to organize the world's information (and, of course, "do no evil").  The company gave away search functionality to sites and search to users, fostering an image of usefulness and respect by their peers.  From day one, with Zuckerberg's attitude and approach, Facebook came off as antagonistic, selfish, and only in it for the money.  When it released Facebook Connect to the world, attempting to expand the social graph and make it easier for the world to share information, it did so by stating this would give them more access to more information.  It came off positive at first, but companies understand there was never an altruistic idea behind that move.

Maybe it's simply my perception, but for the first five years of Google's life, it did everything right, coming off as altruistic, mutually beneficial, and simple.  From inception, Facebook has come off as greedy, immature, and only in it for themselves.  Google's pledge was to the consumer, whereas Facebook's pledge was for its shareholders.  I understand that this is a business, but if you look at how Google did it and where it is now, it's hard to argue success.  In the tangible world, it's the difference between Apple and Microsoft.  Google and Apple feel like brothers of another mother, whereas Facebook and Microsoft feel like a match made inheaven.  

So if you ask me where things will be in five to-10 years, I have to predict that Facebook will lose some of its luster and position in the marketplace.  It's not to say that someone else will come along and replace it as the giant of the social web.  It's more to say that something will come along and change the way we view the social Web, and Facebook might get left in the dust.

Or maybe I'm wrong.   What do you think?

18 comments about "The Contradiction Of Google And Facebook ".
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  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants, September 28, 2011 at 12:04 p.m.

    I only have two things to say... Second Life & MySpace... Yes, there are lots of other disasters, remember and others of that era. Everyone thought Murdoch was a genius when he coughed up $600 million for MySpace. He dumped it for peanuts. There's nothing as finicky, fickle and fucktardy as folk.

  2. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, September 28, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.

    I believe you have characterized the two companies accurately and I think you're right.

  3. Nick Drew from Yahoo Canada, September 28, 2011 at 12:16 p.m.

    Building on George's comment, I think you're perhaps looking at this through the wrong lens. Yes, a mishandled privacy issue can cause huge problems for a company, but realistically, consumers don't see this the same way as we do. Quick - what's the demographic that uses Facebook most heavily in the US? Teens/ youngsters. They agree in principle that privacy is a Good Thing, but if their friends have posted up photos of the wickedawesome party from the weekend, that goes out the window.
    Arguably you've oversimplified Google's approach too (its attitude to copyrighted print works, for example, is, uh, interesting; Streetview is still working through severe legal hurdles in Europe and elsewhere), but my biggest issue is that I disagree with your assertion that privacy will be the deciding factor. MySpace didn't start its long decline due to anything like privacy or 'serious' concerns, it fell because fashion changed. And Facebook faces exactly the same risk; what's cool today is very rarely cool tomorrow.

  4. Leticia Del monte from The Cuban Art Project, September 28, 2011 at 12:20 p.m.

    Great articles. I think you are 99% right.

  5. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, September 28, 2011 at 12:20 p.m.

    Well done. Agree with your analysis and opinions. Interested in seeing how this plays out. I am a fan fo FB vs Google+, but feel FB messes with us way too much and, at the moment, Google seems to be playing the "good guy" and showing much more respect. Time will tell.

  6. Bob Dillon from Capalino+Company, September 28, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.

    I agree for the most part, too much change, too quickly is not good for the consumer and I know plenty of people that were unhappy after the latest round of unannounced changes. MySpace is the classic by the way, and Tom Freston, former head of MTV Networks and Viacom was canned for not making that acquisition. Recently he was quoted that it was the best acquisition he never made! Point being this stuff changes fast and the target audience is fickle. Five years out I'm betting something entirely new will be at the top of the heap.

  7. Marko Muellner from Webtrends, September 28, 2011 at 12:56 p.m.

    Interest POV but I fear you're missing the fundamentals. Both Facebook and Google are data companies and both pray to the gods of Marketing. They are engaged in a death match for who can provide the most targeted and effective advertising. Everything they both do, seemingly altruistic or selfish, is based on this fundamental truth. Facebook tinkers with your experience and it's privacy policy because it's trying to provide Marketers with more relevant access to you. Google created Google + solely so it could begin to amass the social connectivity data that it sees that Facebook has and that is SO important to relevancy going forward.

    Don't be fooled, neither of these companies are "good" or "bad" - "altruistic" or "selfish", it's all branding - smoke and mirrors (said like the true Marketer I am). It doesn't matter if you identify more with Zuck and Eric Schmidt and think one is more honest or caring about YOU. They care about YOU only so far as they can capture more and more data about what's capturing your attention RIGHT NOW. They are massive money-printing machines and that's it. Their longevity depends only on whether they can continue to balance their amazing scale and usage and the success of marketers. Period.

    Thanks for the provocative post.

    Marko Z Muellner
    Sr. Director of Marketing, Webtrends

  8. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media, September 28, 2011 at 12:56 p.m.

    Great insight as always Cory. I have felt similarly for years and been considered a FB hater which isn't really the case. I just don't see the long term value and I summarize my position with a question. Ask yourself (or anyone else) how much their life would change if either one of these companies simply disappeared overnight. Poof. No more FB. Yeah, you'd have to call people and email and use Skype and IM. But really, nothing. Google on the other hand would have a much more dramatic effect. How would I answer tough questions with my kids? How would dazzle people with my knowledge of minutiae? Indeed, where would I double check spelling of words like minutiae? Certainly not with Bing. One company provides real, long term value, the other doesn't.

  9. Steve Ellwanger from Marketing Daily, September 28, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.

    Great comments all. My two cents is that FB is what AOL was in the 1990's. Did whatever it pleased, ran afoul of privacy issues, wormed its way into your hard drive so it was nearly impossible to dispose of. Since it was the easiest way to get online, lots of us put up with it. Today when I hear the letters AOL I cringe, then thank the heavens for my cable connection.

  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 28, 2011 at 2:15 p.m.

    Any company that has so much power given to it over your personal, private and business decisions portends trouble. Caring is never in business conversations; profit is the beginning, middle and end. Also, could you imagine a Google FB merger in some form down the road ? Can you imagine those type of companies - too big to fail ;( - are controlled by "evil doers" (for lack of a better apolitical, non-idealogical term) in some years in the future ? Superheroes to the rescue ?

  11. Eric Duong from Optio Interactive, September 28, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.

    I couldn't agree with you more, Cory. Facebook's poor relationship with users has hurt their viewership. I've seen not only defections to Google+ (not cold turkey though) but have also witnessed many friends simply not using FB as much over time. Reasons stem mostly from less than desirable feeds and notifications, i.e. getting more irrelevant info (farmville updates) and missing the good stuff (cousin's photos of their newborn), privacy and all the other issues you raise.

    With every change, FB seems to like the measure once cut twice tactic vs measure twice cut once like Google.

    It really is hard to say what's going to happen to FB in the long run. Being so huge with so much money and so many users (who really don't have a comparable alternative yet) i can only see them being the Microsoft of social and persevering.

    Btw, did you see this?

    FB better be careful. They truly are in a position to hurt themselves significantly. I wonder if a few influential people could be the catalyst that disrupts Facebook's dynasty.

  12. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, September 28, 2011 at 4:14 p.m.


    I have seen indications that Facebook is not giving a clear picture as to there real standing on the internet. I main point is their total head count. In the USA, their actual number for the 35 and above is far lower than the what is suggested by Facebook. How and why do I think this?

    At Sweepstakes Today, we have run over 500 million click-through / entries. Facebook's head count is much lower than they suggest. However we have consistantly beat them in total entry count according to a handful of the bigger ad agencies. Why? Because we target market to the consumers in the older age bracket who actually are the better buyers than the younger age. We also use "Actual and Active" head count instead of total head count like they do. Many members of Facebook maybe have an account but don't use it. Worse, they they use it once or twice then don't use it afte this.

    Whereas, we concentrate on giving 5 star service to our members and they stay on Sweepstakes Today per day per visit than visit. Our average visit now is between 20 and 25 minutes per day.

    The difference is we are target marketing across the board to the desires of our members. Facebook will never achieve this. Further they will not appear to the adverters in the end.

    So in the end Google pays greater attention to detail to the cosumer and will always do better than Facebook.

    Happy to explain this in greater detail.

    Craig McDaniel, President
    Sweepstakes Today LLC
    aka - Mr. Sweepy

  13. Shawnta Collier from Geomentum, September 28, 2011 at 4:24 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more! The next young prodigy will come along and create another social networking site that will be better than FB, Twitter and MySpace put together. It may be 10-15 years from now (or sooner), but sometimes all good things come to an end if it's not in favor of it's users.

  14. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, September 28, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.

    You're right when you say "From inception, Facebook has come off as greedy, immature, and only in it for themselves."

    Can you believe something is "social" when it requests almost your birth certificate to form part of it?

    Something social must be open, without any "forced" registration process.

    Facebook is turning in the AOL for the XXI century.

  15. Shawnta Collier from Geomentum, September 28, 2011 at 5:23 p.m.

    Greg...u are so right. I think Facebook ask for to much info. On top of that I don't like the way so many things are connect via FB. Other companies have you sign up on their sites using your FB login. If I want to register on a website I will start a registration from scratch and not use my FB login to do so. With all the changes I don't find FB as simple and user friendly anymore!

  16. Aaron Goldman from 4C, September 29, 2011 at 10:29 a.m.

    Hey Cory - not sure you're looking at this thru the right lens..

    Google's secret sauce is its search algorithm. Google changes its algo every day without telling anyone. What gives them the right to do that? They know how to deliver search results better than anyone else. So why should they listen?

    Now take Facebook. Its secret sauce is how it connects people online. FB changes the way it connects people quite frequently as you point out. But the bottom line is FB knows how to connect people better than anyone else. So why should they listen?

    Everyone hated the news feed when it first came out. Now its the killer feature we can't live without. If FB would have listened to anyone else (especially the privacy advocates) it would never have created it.

    Also, you have to keep in mind that kids growing up today knowing nothing but FB don't have the same fear of privacy that our generation does. In Zuck they trust. And good on them cuz Zuck knows them better than they know themselves.

  17. Ken Peterson from Monterey Bay Aquarium, September 29, 2011 at 6:21 p.m.

    On the subject of Facebook and Google, check out Eli Pariser's insightful (and disturbing) TED Talk detailing how both companies are flitering and limiting the kind of information we get from the world:

  18. Beth Neibert from Beth Neibert & Associates, LLC, October 4, 2011 at 12:37 p.m.

    Well said, Cory! I'd like to add that Google adds tools available to choose from like AdWords or Insights without forcing their functionality onto the masses. Whereas, Facebook changes it's features and functionality as often as I change my underwear. It's getting so businesses using Facebook to promote their products and services have to have a Facebook expert on their staff just to adjust and implement modifications in response to the changes. When the FBML went away, we had to strive to find new apps. When the timeline changed on my personal wall, I was peeved. Don't tell me who I have to read, let me choose. Google allows me to search (as you clearly state) and read what I want... not what they want me to see.

    So here's to the big question: who will remain standing in 5 or more years? Your guess is a good as mine. Thanks, again for a great article! Here's to your success! ~ Beth

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